It was then I realized my nose was woefully inadequate

It was about 9:15am on Christmas Eve when the gravity of the situation finally hit me. For thirty-odd years I had been pretty confident that things were working out OK between us. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was reasonably useful and fit my face well enough. That relationship – between my nose and me – was rocked on a Friday morning near Kodanad, Kerala, India, not far from Kochi.

It was the elephants’ fault.


We took a day trip out from Kochi to see the elephants and the waterfalls. It is one of the standard offerings from all the tourist agencies and taxi companies so it was not particularly hard to arrange. It leaves around 6:30am, pretty early for a vacation activity, but if you want to see the elephants being bathed that’s when you have to get started. An hour or so later we arrived in Kodanad and walked down to the waterfront to await the arrival of the elephants.


While awaiting their arrival we were treated to the scenes of the river. That mostly meant men taking their morning baths, but there was also some traffic a bit down the river with cargo boats shuttling back and forth between the banks and some construction sites. Quite peaceful and pretty overall.

Not surprisingly, they make quite an entrance. The three we saw were pretty big and they were only 6-10 years old. They came marching down the track to the river with their handlers, moving between the 25 or so tourists gathered to watch the daily ritual. They made it to the water’s edge, took a drink of water and then settled in for their spa treatment.



The baths lasted about 45 minutes; there’s a lot of ground to cover when dealing with animals that size. The handlers scrubbed them down with old coconut husks, offering up an exfoliation treatment along with the wash. There was some rolling of the elephants back and forth and such as well, allowing everyone to get views up close of the animals.


When the bath was done there was also the opportunity to get really close, petting them if desired. I was actually surprised by the bristly hairs more than anything.


Back to the nose thing for a minute though. Watching the elephants and seeing them use their trunks for pretty much anything they wanted induced great jealousy on my part. The prehensile trunks, with a “thumb” on the tip of the trunk was particularly impressive. They could use it to grab sticks to scratch themselves or to pick up food for a snack. It was awesome. Mine can barely breathe or smell most days. It certainly doesn’t have the ability to hold anything or grab on to a snack as I’m walking down the street. Yup, I’ve got trunk envy.


The show is free, though the mahouts expect a tip from you for attending.

There was also a guy who made the trip but who apparently had no interest in the event. Rather he was there to shout at the rest of us, reminding us that we were contributing to the captivity and torture of the animals. I can certainly see where he’s coming from, but I’m not particularly convinced that the situation is as bad as was suggested. The elephants are part of a rescue facility run by the government, not a commercial operation. Yes, they are kept in captivity, but there isn’t really a wild environment for them in the area anymore. This certainly seems better than having them fend for themselves completely in an area where there is insufficient food and land for their needs. I saw elephants in South Africa over the summer and asked similar questions of the guides there. In that case it is a more wild environment, though they are still theoretically fenced in (theoretically because the elephants can usually get through the fence without issue). And it still didn’t seem that bad. Maybe I’m just making up excuses for enjoying the scene, but that’s where I’m at.

Read more from the India/Sri Lanka New Years adventure here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.